Posted tagged ‘Cancer’

Table For One

April 10, 2014


This is my first night alone, friends and family having all returned to their regularly scheduled programming, as Shel used to say. And tonight, because grief has its own logic, it turned out that eating dinner alone was one of the harder things I’ve had to do lately.

I know, a lot of you probably couldn’t eat a thing at a time like this, but I’ve never been that way, and have now proven definitively that I never will be. Most of me thought that I should be eating something standing in the kitchen, or in front of my computer. A small, sane part of me remembered the words of the wise Hospice social worker, who advised me to begin right away to find “a new normal.”

All day today I’ve been thinking about the new normal. I can flush the toilet early in the morning without worrying about waking Shel up. I can open the blinds when I wake up, because he’s not still sleeping. I can have breakfast right after I open the blinds, because I’m not letting him get his sleep. And so on and so on, all through the day, until dinnertime, when I froze. But then I remembered some excellent chicken in red wine vinegar and crème fraîche left over in the fridge, from when Tom and I made dinner on the night Shel died.

I dared to set the table, pour wine, sit and eat without even a book in front of me. I’ll confess that I didn’t really taste what I was eating. But I did it. I sat at a table for one.

Fit For A King

March 26, 2014

DSC_8210Hospice has a thing they call respite care, which allows the caregiver (me) some time away from the patient (Shel). But actually, as you might imagine, I don’t actually want to be away from Shel, although I definitely do want to get away from thinking about cancer all the time. What’s my respite? Baking. Which is a good thing, since sweets are about the only food that appeal to Shel these days, so we’re in synch.

Today I wanted to bake something fancy, but I didn’t want to go to the store. I searched around for something I could make from my pantry and fridge, et voila, galette des rois! As I wrote here, eating galette des rois, a crispy buttery frangipane-filled treat, is an annual custom in France, deliciously done in early January. So making one at the end of March, not to mention making it rectangular instead of round, would give a Frenchman fits. Nonetheless, there you have it, my first homemade galette des rois. And really, it could scarcely be easier.

I followed David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe, with just a few tiny tweaks. He calls for orange zest, I used a few drops of orange oil instead. He calls for rolling out the puff pastry, but I had some all-butter puff in the freezer that is already sheeted out flat, so I just used it as it was, no muss, no fuss. (Seattle folks, get this at PFI) He calls for several chilling stages, but I just went ahead and put it together as soon as my puff pastry was thawed and popped it straight in the oven.

Decorating it is really fun, and is actually the reason I was drawn to this recipe. David demonstrates a cool edge-fluting technique that I’ve never used before, but am certain to use again. And drawing on the top to create that chevron pattern is an exercise in thinking about anything but cancer.

So there you have it, my respite solution, fit for a king, fit for Shel, and providing a sweet surprise for the next few folks that are here and hungry. Beats cancer any day.

Ears To The Ground

March 16, 2014

DSC_7939Often we’re completely wrapped up in the sorrow of it all. Sometimes, though, we manage to lift our heads and inhabit the big, wide world. Sometimes, we even hang out on Facebook! And if I hadn’t paid attention to a little FB post from a local chef, kept my ears to the non-cancer ground for once, I wouldn’t have been able to put such a lovely dinner on the table. Yes, finally it’s about food again, because thanks to some good Hospice drugs, Shel has some of his appetite back!

DSC_8199Tonight, a day early, we had a beautiful corned beef and cabbage meal, thanks to our own Hitchcock Deli, which brilliantly provided house-corned beef and cabbage kits. Quelle idée, what a great idea! They assembled a beautifully corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, spices, a jar of house-made mustard, and a can of Guinness, plus a recipe. All I had to do was simmer it, and that was a good thing, since cooking has been getting really neglected around here. What I couldn’t manage to do was to find a white plate to photograph it on, so please forgive the oh-so-retro look here. It tasted way better than that.

It was actually just delicious, and I have to say that the corned beef was even better than the ones I’ve corned myself, which is saying a lot. Since most of you won’t have access to this cool little kit, let me say that adding a big can of Guiness to your corned beef simmering water really is a nice lick. And so Shel and I ate well, and praised the luck ‘o the Irish, who make such great literature and whiskey.

DSC_8203And for those of you who, like me, don’t drink beer, which is the logical drink with a meal simmered in Guinness, I’ll say that I surprised myself by walking into my little cellar and straight to this bottle, which turned out to be the perfect match.

So I heard via social media about the best and quickest route to a  lovely, lively Irish dinner kit, Shel’s been feeling well for a couple of days, and the kitties haven’t been fighting. Much. I’m keeping my ear to the ground for more good news and I hope you are too.

End Of The Rainbow

March 4, 2014


Is there gold at the end of this rainbow, glowing just outside our house? I think that it’s safe to say: yes, there is, although it’s the sort of gold that you might prefer to avoid.

The targeted drug that Shel was taking was making him feel terrible, and there was no sign that it was actually making him any better, so he has decided to stop taking it. Today he enrolled in the hospice program, and we will be doing everything we know how to do to make the rest of our life together as full of joy, grace, and peace as it possibly can be.

It’s the hardest decision we’ve ever made in our 20 year quest to manage his cancer. If you’ve been following his story, you know that we’ve tried just about everything available in the U.S. and in France. He’s gotten better, he’s gotten worse, we’ve hoped, we’ve despaired, and we’ve been constantly looking for the Next Good Thing that medical research had to offer him. We’ve finally run out of options, and we’re stepping off that roller coaster.

Now our job is to live as well as we can, knowing that we don’t have all the time in the world. To continue to love in the face of loss, to try to laugh a little every day, and also, to fold the laundry and clean the litter box, because you still have to do all that, while you can.

So I guess the pot of gold may be a new-found peace. I’m not sure, I haven’t had the time to test my theory yet, but I’m thinking this will be true. Since we’re suddenly freed from the constant pressure to search for and try out new treatments, with all the side effects they entail, in theory we’re now fully available to live in the moment, which is supposed to be a sweet place. Maybe we’ll see each other more clearly now, through this final prism. We might even discover new things to love about each other. Maybe there will be rainbows every day. Spring is coming soon, and it’s a beautiful time to be alive.

Drama Queen

February 14, 2014


You all must think I’m a total drama queen. Every couple of years I come here and tell you that Shel’s about to die, and French Letters goes all dark and dramatic.

DSC_8079Sometimes we’ve been in France, sometimes in America, but the despair has always been the same. I wish I could exclaim Alas! in English like I can say Hélas! in French, without sounding affected, because alas is the only thing we feel at the prospect of Shel’s impending end. We never get to the Resignation or Acceptance stages that are supposed to be part of the process of dying. We are never resigned, never can accept the idea, and generally gnash our teeth and thrash about at the prospect.


It’s all we’ve talked about for the past few weeks, except when we’ve been talking about the Olympics. Looking death right in the face and never learning equanimity. Expecting Shel to die any day now. Freaking the fuck out, actually.

But now he’s been taking the new drug for a little over a week, and he’s feeling a bit better. He’s gone from saying “honey, stockpile the morphine” to seldom taking any. He’s been saved so many improbable times, by heaven knows what – should we sell our stock in Kleenex and dare to hope again?

How It’s Going

February 7, 2014

DSC_8077People ask me all the time how Shel’s doing. I think this is the truest answer, to say how he’s not doing. Now I’m the one who’s driving when the two of us are in the car, I’m loading the dishwasher, I’m putting out the garbage and recycling, I’m getting the paper and the mail in the morning, I’m doing Shel’s laundry, and heaven help me, sometimes I’m even making the coffee. These are things I wouldn’t have thought of doing just a month ago, because these were Shel’s jobs. Now they’re mine.


And I’m learning that it’s a sacrament to fold Shel’s laundry.

Light A Candle

January 23, 2014

IMG_7292Friends and dear ones, light a candle for us, please, because we’re in bad shape over here. Shel’s in a lot of pain, plus now he’s doing ten more days of radiation for spinal metastases. The insurance company, predictably, refused to pay for the targeted drug, but we’re appealing that and are keeping our fingers crossed.

I wake up in the morning, my pillow already damp with the first of the day’s tears. Mascara is utterly wasted on me. Toby is learning to go outside, on a leash, and shivers when he realizes how big and cold the world is outside the house. Me too. Shel struggles valiantly on, like the gull flying past, now finding a bright evening ray, winging over dark water, catching the last of the light.